Wherein The Author Engages With The International Cuisine Scene

When a friend (and friend of this blog) wrote me awhile back, asking if I would consent to a free shipment of some Canadian snack foods, how could I say no? The topic came up after discussing some snack foods that are alleged to be favorites in the Fifty United States, in which I lambasted my own state for the lack of good taste in choosing Pringles “potato” chips as favorites.

Some Canadian readers chimed in with mentions of some local favorites with which I was not familiar. It was a few days after that little bit of verbal cultural exchange when reader DougD wrote me.

I have known Doug online for quite a few years now and we have met on a couple of occasions, so I had no hesitation providing my bricks-and-mortar address for the package he proposed to send.

I had no idea what to expect, but a parcel eventually arrived in excellent condition and full of the kinds of things I would have eaten plenty of, had I been a teenager in Doug’s country. I opened the box and pulled out one thing after another that I had never before experienced. In no particular order, they were Jos. Louis cakes, a Coffee Crisp candy bar, Dare maple cookies, Hawkins Cheesies and (drum roll) Lays Ketchup Potato Chips.

OK, perhaps calling it “International Cuisine” might be making that term a bit more malleable than it should be, but cuisine is certainly food and Canada is a different country from my U.S. place of residence, so we can legitimately check both boxes. And as you all know, I am a confirmed fan of snack foods from way back. Although I exercise more good sense and restraint these days, I have consumed (more than) my share of Hostess Twinkies, Cupcakes and Ding Dongs, pretzels, chips and candy bars native to my midwestern locale, and have even gone for the TastyKakes that were my father’s childhood lifetime favorites.

Like a kid on Christmas morning, I contemplated my newfound treats, wondering how I should handle these. There was no question but that a blog post would result, but what would be the theme? How I plowed through complete packages of five Canadian snacks in a single sitting? A side-by-side comparison with the closest American counterpart I could find for each? Or give them as gifts to people and watch their expressions? I am kidding on the last one, as I never for even one second contemplated giving them away without consuming at least part of them.

The solution hit me – I would make a family thing out of it, and we could all sample each product and offer some impressions. My original plans to do so on Christmas day were dashed when 1) Daughter had to stay away and in quarantine due to her fiancee’ contracting a case of Covid and 2) feeling quite ill myself that day with something I can only identify as Not-Covid.

The plan more or less came together when we assembled most of the family in a couple of different sessions. So first, meet your judges. 1) There is your author, of course. 2) Marianne – long suffering spouse of JP, who normally has much better sense than to eat food like this. 3) Son No. 1, a 29 year old Dominican Catholic priest (Father Son?) in for a visit from out of state. 4) Son No. 2, a 27 year old specialist in advertising and content creation for an online education resources company (who is quite accomplished in the kitchen) and, finally, and 5) Son No. 2’s fiancee’, a lovely young lady who works with autistic children and has culinary tastes several steps more developed than those of her future father-in-law, but is a good sport.

Judges 1, 2 and 5 chose to start at salty and end at sweet, so let us identify our tested treats in this order:

Lay’s Ketchup Flavored Potato Chips. Lay’s Potato Chips are claimed to be Canada’s favorite (or favourite, if you prefer) brand. As many flavors as we have in the US, Ketchup is one flavor we yanks do not get. Perhaps not surprisingly, they tasted like potato chips dipped in ketchup. I had never considered potato chips and ketchup as a combination, but now that I have, why not? These were surprisingly good, and I would buy them occasionally if they were offered locally. As many bottles of Heinz sells here, you would think that they would pair up with another chip maker if Lay’s can’t be bothered to shuffle some of these off to Buffalo and points south.

Judging: comments: Surprisingly good; like fries without the fries; shame we can’t get these; well done flavor, any ketcup lover would be in love.

Hawkins Cheezies. W. T. Hawkins, Ltd. is a family business that traces back to the late 1940’s when two friends in Chicago perfected the product. For reasons unknown they skedaddled north of the border and have been producing Cheezies ever since. We Americans have our Cheetos and a thousand minor brands of the crunchy, fried, cheese-powder-coated corn puff, but this Canadian icon has a unique flavor. I will confess to being a big fan of Cheetos (the crunchy, fried kind) and I am not sure this Canadian product would force them out of my shopping cart (if I were in a Cheeto mood) but a few sittings convinced me that I could do a lot worse.

Judging comments: Crunchier than Cheetos; Not Cheetos, but no cheese on the fingers; Like Bugles with cheese; Like a cheesy Frito, quite nice.

Dare Maple Creme Cookies. This company goes back to 1889 as a maker of cookies and candies (changing its name from Doerr to Dare in 1945). These Maple Creme cookies are evidently a Quebec staple. I love maple flavor and I love cookies, so I will confess a touch of disappointment when the real article did not cash the checks my imagination had written for these. Still, after a few more, I could see the attraction. And . . . wait, they’re gone. And I want more. Dare sells some products here in the US but I have not seen these cookies – perhaps I need to pay more attention.

Judging comments: Don’t taste as good as they smell; would be better with milk; really good but the cookie lets it down – would be better with a shortbread cookie.

Vachon Jos Louis Cakes. We Americans think of Ding Dongs (by Hostess) but Ding Dongs are not nearly as old as the Jos Louis cakes (which Mr. and Mrs. Vachon named after their sons, Jos and Louis in 1932). Two little round pieces of cake that is a cross between chocolate and red velvet, some creamy filling in the center and then the whole thing is dipped in chocolate to keep it all together. As a fan of Ding Dongs from way back, this was an enjoyable treat. The chocolate coating in our sampled cakes was extremely delicate, so any manhandling will leave you with large hunks of chocolate shell left in the plastic wrapper. Which is not unpleasant to eat on its own. I could get used to these pretty quickly.

Judging Comments: Nicely done, but the chocolate coating is really delicate; Messy; Better than a Ding Dong; A Ding Dong with an unpleasant aftertaste.

Nestle Coffee Crisp. Last, but certainly not least, comes the most candy-like of these treats. Like much in Canada, this treat hails from England. The Rowntree Wafer Crisp was renamed the Biscrisp at its introduction in the 1930’s, and the coffee-flavored spinoff hit Canadian shelves in 1938. A delightful little sandwich of alternating layers of crisp wafers, coffee-flavored candy and a chocolate coating were kept on after Nestle bought the company. There have been some Americans who have tried to get the product sold here, but those who run Nestle in Canada have paid us no mind. This one may have been my personal favorite of the lot – I love chocolate, I love coffee, and the two go together like, well, chocolate and coffee.

Judging Comments: Nailed the coffee/chocolate combo; Nice crunch; A coffee-flavored cream wafer; A little too thick, OK but not great.

For anyone into the raw data, the judging went like this:

Canadian Snacks
Judge12345Avg
Product
Lay’s KetchupGrade799888.2
CheeziesGrade7797.57.57.6
Maple CookiesGrade757.5776.7
Jos. LouisGrade8.577556.5
Coffee CrispGrade9.589.56.56.58

I feel a little bad for some of the lower scorers – a taste of any of them would be good right about now. I also feel a little bad for DougD, as I have not sent Doug U.S.-only treats in return. Although I had offered to do so. Perhaps Doug simply has more sense or better-developed tastes than I do. In any case, I feel very international right now. Maybe it’s time to locate a Tim Horton’s.

All photos by the author.

30 thoughts on “Wherein The Author Engages With The International Cuisine Scene

  1. Love this! Now I’m hungry for snacks at 6 am! Reminds me that I was on a job in Europe one time, and driving across France, gassing up, we found a snack in a bag that could be described as small croissants, size wise, a little larger than an Oreo, and stuffed with dark chocolate. Ended up eating a trail of these across France, never seen them in the U.S., or anywhere else for that matter…should have brought the empty bag home for further research! I’m also happy my local up-scale grocery store carries Lu Petit Ecolier European Dark Chocolate Biscuit Cookies, I can’t keep my hands off of these.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is really interesting to me that as homogenized as life has become because of the scale of big companies and the dispersion of people around the globe, that there are still individualities like these and the French treats you describe. Those sound pretty good.

      One son (my father-son) was telling me that a relative of one of his classmates came from Canada, and whenever someone in the family is up for a visit, large quantities of Coffee Crisp bars are a mandatory part of the return trip.

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  2. These all look really good. Well, okay, the mental jury is still out on the Lay’s Ketchup chips, but I would certainly try them. I did once try the Lay’s Biscuit and Gravy chips, so I can’t throw stones…

    Every Christmas season, my wife has found something quite similar to (if not these) the maple creme cookies at Aldi’s. It’s very much a seasonal item and they are quite good.

    If you are curious, we found a company which sells what they call a “Yum-Yum” box. Once a month, for however many months you wish to purchase, they will send you or yours a box full of international snacks. When we purchased one for my parents we had the choice of starting with Turkey or Sweden. We went with Turkey. I heard it was quite good and am still anxious to partake.

    There is a YouTube channel called “Matt Does Fitness”. Matt is English and will occasionally try snacks and other shippable foods from elsewhere, primarily the US. His reactions (and frequent disgust) are hilarious and could give some insight into how US based “treats” are viewed by others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Yum Yum box sounds interesting.

      I was kind of surprised at how much I liked the Ketchup chips. I don’t do ketchup on fries or other potatoes usually, but I found that one of those chips led to another, and another, and so on.

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  3. Well that was interesting, I had wondered how you would handle this but your approach was both objective and subjective. Good idea to assemble a panel, quantify the results and do your tasting in multiple sessions.

    I tried not to influence your perception of these foods, but since you’re made it so easy I’ll chime in with my thoughts:

    Lay’s Chips: 6 – Mediocre chips, not a fan of the ketchup flavouring

    Hawkins Cheezies: 8.5 – I love these but if I eat too many I feel ill. Much better flavour than Cheetos or other traditional cheezies. You didn’t mention how ugly they are, if you encountered a Hawkins Cheezie without the context of packaging you would not put that thing in your mouth.

    Maple Cookies: 7 – I included Dare cookies because they are the original, but there are multiple brands. Leclerc has a crunchier cookie and rates an 8.

    Jos Louis: 6.5 – I liked them more as a child, factory produced baked goods aren’t really my thing anymore. I guess I’m a home baked snob.

    Coffee Crisp: 9 – My preferred treat when pilfering the kids’ Halloween candy. I’m surprised to learn that these are not available in the UK, I’d always thought they were like Smarties or Kit Kat that way.

    Now that all being said I am slightly a Canadian cultural outlier, because my parents are Dutch. So a lot of my preferred snacks are from Holland, we could continue the program with Stroopwafels, Poffertjes, Kroketten and Wilhelmina Peppermints for Church. We’ll skip the raw herring and insanely salty licorice.

    Not to appear ungrateful for a return package, but we have all the American stuff we need. My mother in law is a transplanted Michigander, and the only food item she can’t obtain is Thank You Pudding. That’s fine with the rest of the family, because we don’t like it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • DD, never heard of a Stroopwafel until I was at a party in Northern California and the hostess was humorously complaining about a party guest requesting them when she asked us what our favorite holiday foods were. She had a lot of trouble finding them! Within a year, they were all over, including my local Midwestern Trader Joes! The Power of the Stroopwafel!

      Liked by 1 person

    • The European store here has aisles full of snacks from Holland, and I’ve often wondered what they taste like. My grandmother used to buy those windmill ginger type cookies, and I will still occasionally buy them. Good with tea.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. For Dare cookies, my go-to is the Cinnamon flavour (one must include the “U” in the spelling of these words).

    I am also not a fan of ketchup flavour chips, but gimmie the Wavy ones and I am good. Great for watching football, hockey, or baseball.

    I prefer Hostess Cheesies to those depicted above in this competition.

    Vachon cakes are good, but I need their Flakie offering. Raspberry flavour please, with a nice helping of a whipped cream substance of unknown ingredients, but undoubtedly including lots of fructose/glucose. All natural you see.

    A Coffee Crisp is never far out of my reach here at my residence. Smarties too.

    I was surprised at the omission/exclusion of Hickory Sticks. Perhaps another time.

    An excellent culinary serving was had at the JP residence!

    Liked by 1 person

    • In the last couple of days I saw that the Kroger grocery chain has a store-brand maple cookie with packaging eerily similar to that of the Dare cookies. I may have to try them. Really, I came far from disliking any of the offerings. but then these things are all sort of in my sweet spot for treats.

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  5. Not fan of all excepting Hawkins Cheezies which we rarely allow in the house for good reason as they would be hoovered in short order as I just can’t stop! What we do not get in Canada that I crave and suss out whenever Stateside are Snickers Ice Cream Bars. OMG! BTW … Maple Syrup on almost anything is outstanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have seen the Snickers ice cream bars in grocery stores and have not tried them. Now I will have to.

      And I agree – maple syrup makes almost anything better.

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  6. Very disappointed to read the Dare cookies rated just fair-to-middlin’. Anything maple-flavored and leaf-shaped screams “Canada” and even the package makes them look appealing, so I was expecting higher marks. Glad the Coffee Crisps came to the rescue (seems to be the winner for Americans and Canadians alike based on the comments). I wonder if anyone has the discipline to eat just one of the two crisps in the package and save the other for later? DougD missed the perfect opportunity to scare the crap out of you – should’ve hidden a bag of Circus Peanuts somewhere in the pile. Finally, Father-Son cracks me up. I suppose you could call yourself Son-Father in return?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, Father Son has a nice ring.

      Maybe my problem with the Dare cookies is not their fault – one of my favorite treats when I was a kid was on those rare occasions when my mother would buy the little packages of maple sugar candy. A box usually contained 4 pieces, at least some of which were shaped like maple leaves. Those were so decadently good, how could anything else compare?

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  7. That was fun. Thanks for introducing us to your panel of judges. Some of the comments cracked me up – “like fries without the fries.” and the “father-son”. As a Canadian I prefer Lay’s “Salt and Vinegar” chips over the ketchup ones. My mother used to put those Joe Louis cakes in our lunchboxes and I hated them then and haven’t had one since. Twinkies were much better. I can’t remember the brand of Cheese puffs I like is – but it’s not that one – those ones are too crunchy – I don’t buy them anymore but they were light and airy and melt in your mouth, and according to the dietitian pure fat. Coffee crisp is something you give out at Halloween in those mini snack size packs – it doesn’t have enough chocolate flavor for my taste, but has good crunch. As for those Dare Maple Cookies – I walk past them all the time in the grocery store and have never ever tried them! All in all Doug did a good job representing us in the International Competition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess some Canadians just have healthier eating habits than others. πŸ™‚

      I know the cheese puffs (or whatever they are) that you like – we have several brands of those here. They are merely OK in my book. Unless someone sets an open container in front of me, then I will not stop eating until they are gone.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I always enjoy your food posts! This Canadian doesn’t really enjoy any of those products. I do love Lays chips but only the plain version, not ketchup (ewww). To be fair, this goes for any brand of chips. I’m a purist. I like my chips and my chocolate plain (no nuts, caramel or any other embellishments please).

    Liked by 1 person

    • My goodness, be careful or the Canadian Minister of Snacks is going to come around and deport you. πŸ™‚ Or maybe there isn’t a Canadian Minister of Snacks. Oh well, there should be.

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  9. Well this was a fun post, especially since I am a Canuck, even though I’ve lived here 55 years, after moving here at age 10. The Coffee Crisp would win hands down for me too. When we visited my grandmother we loaded up on Coffee Crisp for mom (and later, when I appreciated coffee, for me too) and also Aero bars. The Coffee Crisps I knew were not in a skinny package like that, more of a rectangle – hmm. We always had Hostess Potato Chips when I was growing up and we had the plain ones, though sometimes my grandmother had a vinegar variety on hand. I’ve had the Dare Maple Cremes – Dare was like Keebler is here. But not being a fan of maple creme (too sweet), I remember a Dare cookie that had a red jelly center (not jam-filled but more like a piece of gumdrop). Years after moving here, we called any of the poufy cheese curls, pops or crunchy snacks “Cheezies” … well, just because. I’ve never had a Joe Louis Cake. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m surprised they’ve never made a Coffee Crisp knock-off here – Kit Kat keeps tweaking their original candy bar, so maybe one day they’ll come through. In Canada we call them “chocolate bars” and when we moved to the States, we learned it was “candy bars” which we (the family) found amusing.

        Liked by 1 person

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